By Ryan Lewallen, County 17
Four Gillette men and one Gillette woman have been arrested in connection to a conspiracy that resulted in a man being severely beaten outside his girlfriend’s residence last month, according to multiple affidavits of probable cause.
Prosecutors have charged James Whitten, Aaron Morris, Felicia Hess, Christopher Melofsky, and Shandon Hildreth with felonies for allegedly planning and executing an assault where a man was forced out of his girlfriend’s apartment and beaten with a baseball bat in the early morning hours of April 19, court records state.
Investigators believe the plan was ironed out around 3:15 a.m., after Whitten contacted Morris and Hess to inform them that several attempts to contact the female that morning to check on her were not successful, according to the affidavits.
Court documents further state that Whitten and Hess believed the man was being physically abusive to the female and grew concerned that they could not reach her, at which point Morris offered to contact two other individuals, Melofsky and Hildreth, both of whom “wanted to get a hold of (the male)” for an unrelated matter.
The five of them traveled to the female’s house in a black 1997 Ford F-350, ultimately making the decision to assault the man with a metal baseball bat acquired from another vehicle before they left, per the affidavit.
On the way, Melofsky reportedly made several statements regarding the plan and how he wasn’t afraid of going back to prison, court documents state.
Suspect statements obtained by police reveal that Whitten, who possessed a key, and Hess entered the apartment to find the man and female sleeping in the bedroom. The pair were awoken, and the female was escorted out while Whitten screamed at the male to get out, according to the affidavits.
The male reported to police that he gathered his belongings, left the apartment, and was followed down the stairs by Whitten. Melofsky and Hildreth were allegedly waiting at the bottom of the stairs and the victim, fearing he may be assaulted, attempted to run but slipped on ice and fell, court documents state.
When he fell, the male reported that the two individuals at the bottom of the stairs rushed at him and began striking him with a baseball bat until he started screaming, per the affidavits, which further state the five suspects fled with the female in the pickup driven by Morris.
The metal baseball bat was allegedly flattened during the assault, according to the affidavits, which add that the male sustained a large “goose egg” on the back of his head and had severe swelling on his hands that were consistent with defensive wounds from trying to protect himself.
Police were notified of the incident around 3:45 a.m. that morning by a witness who had been approached by the male, bloody and beaten, who asked him to get the license plate off a fleeing Ford whose occupants had just assaulted him.
Court documents state that the five suspects noticed the vehicle following them and discussed how they could get away from it while Melofsky reportedly bragged about how hard he hit the man on the head with the bat, which was tossed out of the window by Hildreth.
As they drove, the suspects reportedly turned on a police scanner to see if law enforcement had been able to identify them, according to the affidavits.
Hess allegedly admitted to investigators that the five of them returned to her house, at which point the female was taken to Whitten’s house and the truck was hidden in Morris’ garage, the affidavits state.
Testimony from a third-party witness who knew details regarding the case alleges that Whitten had not been concerned with the female’s safety, but was upset that she had invited the male to her son’s birthday party, according to court documents.
The witness stated that during a recent phone conversation with Whitten, the suspect allegedly admitted that he and several others had beaten the male victim with a bat after hearing the female crying in the dark when they entered the apartment.
Gillette Police Detective Julianne Witham, who investigated the case, wrote in the affidavits that the evidence made it abundantly clear that all of the suspects planned and executed an assault with the intent to inflict serious bodily injury to the victim.
Witham adds that despite finding the victim asleep in the apartment, the suspects forced him to leave the apartment and go outside, where he was badly beaten.
Morris, Whitten, Hess, and Hildreth were all arrested between May 6 and May 10 for felony conspiracy to commit a kidnapping and felony conspiracy to commit an aggravated assault.
Melofsky was arrested on May 9 for felony conspiracy to commit a kidnapping, felony aggravated assault, and felony aggravated robbery, according to court records.